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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Its the Meal that Matters

The thing about TV Chefs is not that they're arrogant, or that they don't grasp the fact that most real people can't co-ordinate poaching and grilling and reducing and glazing all at once, or that they're not nearly as witty or good-looking as they think they are, or that what they think of as affordable often seems somewhat governed by the ridiculous sums of money that they earn for being TV Chefs. What makes these folk worth the time they take up on the airwaves is that they inspire.

I haven't watched a single episode of anything that Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson or Gordon Ramsay have presented without being struck by the way they just LOVE FOOD, and that they want people out there in TV Land to love food like they do.

This is great. They try to make cooking look easy and satisfying and rewarding, no matter how many years of professional cookery they might have under their hats. They try to fill simple plebs like me with the idea that I too can stuff a chicken with bacon and garlic or entertain 6 dinner guests without breaking a sweat while enjoying a nice chianti. The trick for someone like me is to believe it, and then when it all goes pear shaped, to remember that I just have to try again and change a few things and eventually I'll get it sorted out. With time and effort, I'm not necessarily any closer to having my own TV show, but I seem to keep the dinner guests happy even though I have yet to enjoy a good chianti.

What is important about these people, however, is not that they fill us with aspirations that fit their own delusions of grandeur. What matters is how much they care about what they cook. It MATTERS to them that they have the freshest possible ingredients. It MATTERS to them that the food they put on the plate is as good as it can possibly be. It MATTERS that their food will be enjoyed to the utmost, and not just be scoffed down unnoticed as yet another pile of uninteresting muck. And by having these grand illusions and rising to the height of Celebrity Chef, they gain the power to fill ordinary people with these same dreams.

What MATTERS, at the end of the day, is the MEAL. It's an idea I've touched on in the past, but never had a chance to come back and explore here. We are so lucky to live in a country where food is plentiful and safe and wholesome and delicious. In many parts of the world, people are far less fortunate. But for most of us, who can't join the UN to go and fight for justice where it's so terribly lacking, one of the things that we can do to take a morally responsible attitude towards our good fortune in the face of others' suffering is appreciate and respect what we have. We have a duty to keep our waste to a minimum. We have a responsibility to enjoy what we cook and to share with others. Food should be more than just the stuff we put in our mouths; it should be the social glue that holds us all together. Its the Meal that Matters.

When we were growing up, we always ate dinner at the table. It's just what we did, unless it was a barbeque. And at the table we talked, and caught up on our days, and hung out like a family. After I left home and went flatting, meals became something chowed down while sitting on the couch watching the great brain-puree box known as TV (mentioned above). By the time I came to own a house and find myself raising a family, it took a determined effort to break that habit and to win back mealtime as a family time. I realised how many meals I had cooked and eaten but never tasted because I was absorbed not in the food and the company, but in some mindless stream of garbage coming out of the box.

Don't get me wrong, I still watch my fair share of garbage, although these days I do it all off HDD and thus do so in my own timeframe and sans advertising. But the point is that what has come to matter is getting to the table and being together. I highly recommend it.

Coming back to the idea that we have to be responsible for our actions, here's a quick list of what you might be able to do to make the most of your food (some of this is likely to have appeared in previous posts, but think of it as the good stuff that drains off the worms after they've digested all the rubbish):

  • No vege scraps should ever be wasted. Either freeze them for making stock, or compost them, or start a worm farm;
  • No pasta, bread or rice leftovers ever need be wasted. If there's not enough to freeze and use later, hang an ice-cream tub in a tree and feed the birds;
  • Anything else apart from meat and cheese can usually go onto the lawn, if you have one, to feed the hedgehog, if you have one;
  • Learn how much you really need to cook, so that you don't have to throw anything away. Remember that meat and dairy take about 7 times as much energy to produce and get to you as you'll ever get from them in return, and any that you throw away will only attract rodents and cockroaches and flies;
  • Share meals with friends often. The shared energy of cooking and the goodwill you'll generate will help restore the planet's balance;
  • Recycle, and remember to sort it out rather than just bunging it all in the bin and letting them do it at the other end. Keeping recycling costs down will become a major factor in all our lives in the coming years, so you might as well get into good habits now.
Most of this stuff is really easy, its just a matter of forming new habits. So how did we go from celebrity chefs to worm farms? It's what happens when you draft a post over several days as the ideas bubble up. But it all matters, and what matters more is what you take from it. The world is changing. Life is to celebrate.

Its the vibe, your honour.



Giffy said...

I really enjoyed reading this. I feel that our generation has a lot of community building to do and sharing food is one way to do that.

Barbara said...

Hi Dan - Thanks for visiting my blog. Excellent post. Thanks for alerting me to it.